For more than 40 years the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant program has provided communities across America with funds to address a wide range of community development needs. Since 1974, the CDBG program has become one of the longest, continuously run programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The CDBG program provides annual grants to more than 1200 cities and counties.
HUD believes community development activities build stronger and more resilient communities through an ongoing process of identifying and addressing needs and priority investments. Community development activities are designed to support infrastructure, economic development projects, installation of public facilities, community centers, housing rehabilitation, code enforcement, homeowner assistance and other identified needs.
“Federal support of community development encourages systematic and sustained action by State, and local governments,” according to HUD. The CDBG program works to ensure decent, affordable
housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of local businesses. CDBG is an important tool for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities. HUD says “the CDBG program has made a difference in the lives
of millions of people and their communities across the nation.”
Annual grants are made to larger cities identified as Metropolitan Statistical Areas. HUD determines the amount of each grant by using a formula comprised of several measures of community need, including the extent of poverty, population, housing overcrowding and age of housing. Fayetteville is an SMA. The HUD grant application, or annual action plan, is a voluminous 78-page fill-in-the-blanks document which requires predictable responses. It outlines in exhaustive detail the federal government’s expectations of general program objectives with which Fayetteville Community Development Director Victor Sharp is intimately familiar. He has been with the city for 19 years. The city’s application will likely be automatically approved if the application is received by May 15. Available funds will total $3.2 million, some of which are unspent allocations from the current fiscal year. Cumberland County is not an ‘entitlement’ county but receives three quarters of a million dollars in CDBG funds from the state.
Ten days ago City Council tackled the local CDBG action plan for the coming year during a lengthy and sometimes testy exchange with Sharp. He noted in his action plan that “the City of Fayetteville has identified goals and objectives to address the City’s priority needs. Programs and projects have been designed to carry out the goals and objectives.” They are contained in a comprehensive five-year program which is consistent with HUD’s national objectives and outcomes. But the action plan includes only a few targeted areas of the city that are in need of housing rehabilitation or other economic development.
Council seemed frustrated that Sharp’s presentation did not provide a report of accomplishments this past year or detailed plans for the coming year. Council members Mitch Colvin, Kirk deViere and Ted Mohn appeared annoyed that they were being asked to review a plan that had just been presented two weeks earlier. Sharp injected that council was initially given the plan in January. At Mohn’s suggestion council voted to require that annual CDBG action plans be presented in detail to council three months before they must be submitted to Washington. Sharp took a lot of heat April 25 as he attempted to defend the FY17 plan. He was quick to correct council objections, and at one point was gaveled out of order by Mayor Nat Robertson for not allowing members to complete their sometimes lengthy questions. Interim City Manager Doug Hewett intervened to tell council he had heard their concerns and would have some answers for them at their next work session.
“This level of interest by Council is reflective of their desire in revitalization efforts across the city, and ensures that we are properly focused on their priorities during the process,” Hewett told Up & Coming Weekly. The money isn’t the issue. The action plan for the new fiscal year outlines how Community Development plans to spend the funds, but there are only those few specifics. Mayor Pro Tem Colvin has asked for details on areas targeted for revitalization and what they are.
Kirk deViere wanted to know if funds could be moved around once the grant application is submitted. “City staff is aggressively working to address blight issues across the community. We constantly review buildings and properties to ensure they meet the high standards we expect, and when they don’t, we address them as quickly as possible,” said city spokesman Kevin Arata. His reference was to monthly targeted communities in the city where abandoned houses are being demolished with tax liens placed on the properties. He added that in addition to federal grants, the city has budgeted $100,000 for gateway improvements.
The city recently created a Business and Economic Development Department with a staff of three to recognize that high quality city services are to a large extent dependent on a strong business community and local economy. The stated mission of the department “is to support existing and new high quality retail and commercial enterprises, redevelop under-performing corridors and catalyst sites, expand our local incentives portfolio, and to assist a diversity of business interests with a wide range of needs.